ARE GAY PEOPLE SAVED?

 

Yes, if they trust in Jesus. Are straight people saved? Same answer.

A young adult started coming to our church in California and through a new member class gave his heart to Jesus. He attended Trinity for some years, then we lost touch. I found out that he was in a gay lifestyle and later that he was dying in our local hospital of AIDS. I called him because I wanted to lift shame and encourage him to keep saying yes to Jesus. The thief on the cross made some bad decisions, but one good one propelled him into paradise, and we’ll meet him there. My kind and quiet friend told me not to come, maybe out of fear that I would condemn him. God forbid! I wish I had gone anyway to love him and remind him that Jesus is merciful to sinners like us. I hope to God that he died in the arms of Jesus when he left us days later. I am crying as I write this, thinking about his torment.

What makes me even sadder is that our friend may have been living in fear the whole time he was with us, terrified that we might find out that he was different, cursed with a same-sex attraction and condemned to loneliness. I wish he could have sensed sufficient love to take a risk. We would have embraced him–literally and symbolically just as we did with men who struggled like most men I know with opposite-sex attraction, some of whom were addicted to porn. Were they saved? Thank God they were!

Why do I wish I got close enough to him to hear his silent sorrow? Because I and the church need to be where the Lord is, and He is “near the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), which gives me hope that I will see him, my brother in Christ, in heaven.

Same-sex attraction has impulses and desires that affect family structures and often leaves its victims single and lonely their entire lives. Although some have experienced the miracle of rewiring, a large chunk of Christians with same sex attractions will end up single throughout their life–and die struggling to believe for a change.

How would it feel to think that God placed in your body a curse that alienates you from the church, the community of love, and that both they and God Himself hate you? Listen to me: I am not making this up. The church needs to be radical in its love AND embrace. Is your sin more sanctified than theirs?  Where is the attempt to understand, to ask questions rather than make statements, statements that wound the wounded, that condemn the condemned. Love is not passive. Have you talked to them? Do you know that they have prayed a thousand times for God to take away this curse of same-sex attraction, that they have not chosen it? Why is the suicide rate strikingly high among them? If you are hated, you are going to hate yourself.  And you live in fear that straight people will find out and shun you as they have shunned others.

Someone wanted me to write a hard-hitting blog. I am writing it–for the people who are supposed to get it and to be merciful. Dear friends in Christ, be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful!

A WORD TO A YOUNG MAN

 

I have mentored many young men. God has enabled me to believe in them, even when they cannot believe in themselves. I wrote Dare to Dream to help people of all ages, and especially young people, walk into their God-appointed destiny. If you are a releaser of dreams,  the next statement will hurt you as it hurts me, the words of a poet: “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” That includes those in the family of God. Makes me sad to see a life wasted on trivialities.

That is why I am presently investing in a young man with leadership potential whose future was derailed by bad decisions, but who is on the way back. He knows that I believe in him, and he is responding well. Recently I sent him what you can read below. I would be glad to send you the article I sent him: “Four Ways to Honor Your Parents.” It’s one of the big keys for young adults to walk into their future without baggage that slows them down.

1  Fully embrace your manhood. Men work hard and go to bed tired. They are supposed to. Work is a blessing from God. Find a good job that fits who you are and go for it. As you work, those above you will see what you are able to do. (Are you a salesman? You are good with people).  Men do not play video games–boys do. Men do not have time for it. They are pursuing higher goals. I have never played a video game. It would probably be fun, but I have higher goals than fun. I want to change people. You have a calling to be a leader, to influence others. Step into it. It is not about you.

2  Fully embrace your family, your heritage, your sibling, your parents. Read my article on honoring your parents. It promises a long life and a good life. What would people pay for those two priceless gifts? You will never regret getting close to your parents by honoring them. It will make your future with the family God gives you much more enjoyable.

3  Fully embrace your life in God. That is who you are. Do so enthusiastically. Make sure God is behind all that you do. The more I see you, the more I can help you walk into your future. Come to Lydia House. Engage with me–and with us. We are meant to live in Christ–together.

4  Fully embrace your future. You will be a dad someday. Act like it now. You will have kids looking up to you.  Start looking like the dad you will become. Live responsibly. A dad dies to himself to serve his family. I can see you doing that for others.

5  Pray and pursue. God wants to give you a wonderful wife. “He that finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). Finding means looking. Being responsible for another human being grows you. And having kids grows you more. That is a good thing. Getting a good wife brings God’s favor. Cool!

SAME-SEX ATTRACTION, part 2

 

So someone didn’t like my lovey-dovey blog on “Same-Sex Attraction Among Christ-followers.” They thought that all I was offering was sentimentality void of truth. That is what the world is providing. They are saying that there is nothing wrong with same-sex attraction. It is normal. We need to accept it and encourage it. Let them marry and do their thing.

I am saying just the opposite, and I said it in my first blog. We accept the person, not the practice. It is not right; it is not normal, nor is it God’s way. He made it clear right from the get-go: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number…’” (Genesis 1:27,28).

God made provision for Adam in his loneliness, and it wasn’t another man. It was Eve, not Steve. He took from Adam and made Eve. And the commentary that followed: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Only a man and a woman can be “be fruitful and increase.” Only a man and a woman can “become one flesh.” Homosexual sex is not sex, not as God intended it, nor does He approve of it and bless it, as some churches are doing in illegitimate ceremonies. That is a mockery of the Word and will of God.

I am not selling out to the culture; I am coming against culture. But for those who live where I do, under the authority of the Word of God, I am concerned that they (we) build a safe environment for people who because of abuse, neglect, improper parenting, or ten other possible reasons find themselves struggling to change a same-sex attraction.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were the conservatives, the Bible-believing kind. The Sadducees were the liberals, and they didn’t get along with the Pharisees unless they were attacking Jesus. The Son of Man had far greater opposition from the Pharisees than from the sinners. People who knew they were broken found Jesus a safe place. Religious people who knew they had it right and were not open to change created an environment of judgment and pretense. Let’s learn from their hypocrisy and create a shame-free environment for Christians who know their sexual identity is skewed and needs transformation. Otherwise we will have Jesus opposing us as he did the Pharisees. I’d rather have Him on our side.

Maybe you’re wondering how you should show love to your friend who struggles in this way. Perhaps you wonder if you should give a real hug, an embrazio! The answer is, “Absolutely!” They want it; actually they crave it. Physical love with no sexual overtones is needed and helps the healing process. Don’t single them out because of your concern. Include them in because of your compassion. It works!

SAME-SEX ATTRACTION AMONG CHRIST FOLLOWERS

 

Been around for a long time, like anger, jealousy, and other inappropriate behavior. It is a skewed identity. It happens. No easy answer as to why. Don’t be too quick to think up a cause or a solution.

It doesn’t feel good to be in the minority and to be afraid that people are going to “find out.” They may have carried this for a long time and have been silently suffering. If they have shared their struggle with you, they must trust you. Don’t violate that trust. You have the opportunity to show love and to hopefully help create an environment of acceptance in your church community.

The two most important pictures in our life: how we view God the Father and how we view ourselves. Satan’s goal is tampering with those two, and he starts early. Things were going well in Genesis 1 and 2. Then in 3 enter the snake. He managed to put doubt in the heart of Eve. She bought the lie and bit the apple. That also tampered with the relationship between Adam and Eve big-time. Blame and irresponsibility overrode admission of guilt. Sin messes with our identity. For a hundred different reasons it can impact how we view the opposite sex–and our own sexuality. Redemption is a process of recovering who we are in God and who God is in us. Understanding of ourselves and our fellow pilgrims goes a long way in helping us all heal.

Here are some things to help us understand our friends who struggle with same-sex attraction:

THINGS TO KNOW

.They didn’t choose to be that way. It happened to them.

.They don’t feel proud of the way they are; they feel victimized.

.They want help–and understanding helps.

.They have already died a thousand deaths. Watch your words and actions. They often feel       judged for being alive. You can help reduce the condemnation.

THINGS TO DO

.Listen, love and look out. Careful with the Bible verses. If you at least try to understand, you are helping them heal.

.It is becoming much more common as society as a whole accepts same-sex attraction and marriage as a viable alternative. That is really sad. Our part is to accept the person and not the practice. That calls for sensitivity.

.Don’t concentrate on their issue. They are followers of Jesus as you are. Affirm their gifting, their character, their love of God. If your friend is made to feel that all you see is their issue, they won’t feel like being with you.

.Be vulnerable. You have problems. Don’t make it all about them. The people Jesus had the hardest time with was the Pharisees–legalistic, condescending, judgmental, argumentative, out of touch, and unable to see their own darkness. Vulnerability releases grace. It enables people to be who they are, not hide out.

.Get informed. Google some causes and potential solutions.

So am I soft on homosexuality? Not for a moment. But I care for those trapped in a false identity and wanting to break free. Let’s give them the kind of safe community where they can be healed and not shamed. “Love never fails!”

A SOBER LOOK AT ALCOHOL

I am going to say two things about drinking. First, it is not wrong to drink. Second, it can be wrong to drink. Stay with me.

IT IS NOT WRONG TO DRINK.

Scripture does not encourage it, but it does not condemn it. Drinking is not a good thing; it is a neutral thing. Scripture condemns drinking to excess. And that not only means getting drunk. Some alcoholics stop before they are soused, but they are clearly drinking to excess.

Jesus turned water into wine, and it wasn’t grape juice. They knew the difference. Jesus hung around  sinners so much that they accused him of being a drunkard. We don’t know if He drank. We do know that He was a lot harder on legalistic Pharisees than on broken sinners. Four times in Romans 14, the chapter that talks most about gray areas, Paul speaks about not passing judgment. In our tendency to make absolutes relative and relatives absolute, we get more spiritual than the Bible and judge people in areas where they are free to disagree with us.

IT CAN BE WRONG TO DRINK.

Liberals are the new fundamentalists: No guns! John Wayne and his buddies disagree, plus a whole lot of 2nd Amendment Americans. Fundamentalism (at least in the past) has said, “No drinking–period.” They were wrong. Now some Christians have swung the other way and opened the door without regulators. As Luther said, one can fall off a horse on either side. Retreat to legalism and create all kinds of problems. Go to the other extreme and end up in the same ditch. Go ahead and say it: “I am a Christian and I am free to drink.” No you aren’t. At least not the way you’re sounding. Love restricts liberty.
It is not a sin to drink, but it may not be smart. Alcohol is dangerous. It kills people by the truckloads. So we need to think soberly about the issues and not think we are free when and where we want. While Paul condemns judging a brother in matters of personal conscience, he does put limitations on personal habits. We cannot simply say, “To each his own,” because we are called to die to ourselves and live for others. Paul chose “never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (14:13). He limited his freedom for the sake of his friends. Why? Because “the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (17). Unity overrides personal preference. How do I know if something might be offensive to a weaker brother? By not making my right an absolute right. Paul further limited his own freedom when dealing with those outside the family of God. He changed his style, preference, eating and drinking habits. Drinking is not wrong, but it can be if we are not sensitive to others (Romans 14:15-21).  “Everything is permissible,” but not everything benefits all. No one should seek his own good, but the good of others” (I Cor. 10:24).

WHAT ABOUT DOUBTFUL THINGS? (part 2)

 

Part 1 described the Law of Liberty. The next two principles put some restrictions on Christian freedom.

THE LAW OF LORDSHIP.

The Lord is the believer’s ultimate reason for doing or not doing something. Instead of asking, “What am I free to do?” or “Is there anything wrong with it?” I ask, “How can I best please the Lord?” We are accountable finally not to the pastor or to our best friend but to God. On that basis, Paul says, “He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord…while he who abstains abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6). Notice that the abstainer is giving thanks rather than bad-mouthing the eaters. “So each of us shall give account of himself to God” (12), not of his brother or sister.

 

I consider myself a recovering Pharisee. I learned early how to “assist” my younger sister with her religious life. I have since relinquished my right to control her, and she is doing quite well without my help.

 

THE LAW OF LOVE

To answer Cain’s question about responsibility for our brother, “We are our brother’s keep.” Paul cautions us against putting “a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13). Those who claim “to each his own” do not fully understand Christian liberty. We have been set free from sin and the law so that we can serve others, not please ourselves. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (19). Pressing for personal liberty can place too much importance on peripheral matters. Paul says that he will gladly give up eating meat or drinking wine if it will help a brother. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (17).

 

The Pharisees’ preoccupation with rules misled them to major in minors. Love urges us to refrain from judging those who decide differently from us on matters not bearing on doctrine or morals. Remaining flexible about the gray areas keeps the love from shutting down. One mark of maturity is the ability to sort out truth from opinion, rights from responsibilities, necessity from preference, and knowledge from love (one can puff up while the other builds up).

 

It can also free us from pressing for our own way because we have the right to do so. Servants do not have rights; they have responsibilities. It is freeing to go low like Jesus who took the form of a servant, giving up His rights to fulfill His Father’s will. Freedom goes beyond claiming our right to do something because “there’s nothing that says I can’t” and brings us into the humble service of the King (and not judging those who serve differently from us).
Paul applied the law of love in Romans 14 to the Christian brother or sister. When writing to the Corinthians, he focused on people in the world. He said, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law…that I might win those outside the law…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:21,22). His desire to be used by God was central; personal freedom was not. (Next blog: So What About Drinking Alcohol?)

WHAT ABOUT DOUBTFUL THINGS? (part 1)

 

I once started a sermon by saying, “The church council has decided that men should be wearing coats and ties to church, that leaders should not drink anything stronger than Kool-aid, and that Easter will not be celebrated because of its pagan roots.” I tried hard not to smile. A few were alarmed.

 

Hey, we have our list of do’s and don’ts. So did people in Paul’s day. Those schooled in Old Testament dietary laws felt strongly about eating meat. Some believed that eating meat offered to idols was a demonic practice. Others were concerned about how special feast days were observed.

 

Paul addressed these gray areas. He urged believers to welcome one another, “but not for disputes over opinions” (Romans 14:1). The Greek word for “opinions” is “dialogismos.” Some issues invite dialog, because there is more than one side to them. For example: “One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables” (2). God doesn’t make an issue out of it; we shouldn’t either.

 

Color some matters black and white, others gray. What is commanded or prohibited is non-negotiable. Where the Church makes absolutes relative by bringing them up for discussion, such as gay marriage, it loses its prophetic voice, as the ELCA leadership did.  But neither should it take relatives and make them absolute, forcing its application on all people in all situations. Paul had come out of the “taste not, touch not” tradition. It had its judgy bunch of critics, who had the gift of taking the joy out of life with endless lists of don’ts. Paul had a better idea, and he gives us three principles that operate in the realm of grace.

 

The law had functioned before God’s grace was revealed through Jesus Christ. It operated like a baby-sitter, keeping its subjects in line (well, sort of) with restrictions and standards. When the Gospel came, it helped the children to grow up to a new family relationship with the Father. Mount Sinai could tell us what not to do; Calvary told us what Jesus had done and would do. So armed with the Spirit of grace, we can look at gray areas and make reasoned and righteous decisions.

 

THE LAW OF LIBERTY

Some issues are a matter of personal conviction. “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). What does your faith give you freedom to do? Paul writes, “I know…that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean…The faith that you have keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22,23).

 

It is possible for two people to have opposite convictions and both to be free in the Lord. Issues like politics, social custom, entertainment, and food and drink will grab Christians in different ways. Fine with me, as long as they don’t stomp on my roast beef sandwich. If Scripture doesn’t address it and you are not convicted by the Holy Spirit or becoming enslaved, have at it.

(Next: What About Doubtful Things? Part 2–the Law of Lordship and the Law of Love).

JESUS THE MAN

“There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5). It does not say “the God-man,” although He is at the right hand of the Father being worshiped by the angels. It emphasizes His identification with those He brings to the Father. The resurrected Christ had the form of a man–and still does. Though He is the One through whom and for whom all things came into being, He is still a man, and we can relate to Him as a man. The pre-incarnate Christ was God and not man. Then He took on flesh and became the God-man.

When He returned to the Father, He did not give up His humanity; He is still a man. He could move through walls in His resurrected body, but He could also be touched. He showed His wounds and told Thomas to touch Him. He ate three meals that we know of, including “the Last Breakfast” (John 21). When we get to heaven we will see His wounds. He still bears them from “the days of his flesh.”

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-9).

The days of Christ’s flesh were thirty-three years, a small amount of time compared to eternity past and future. And yet the worship that goes on day and night before the throne emphasizes one day, really one fourth of one day, when Christ as the sacrificial lamb bore the sins of the world in His human body. Man sinned, so man had to die. God could not die for man. But if man died, He couldn’t help others. So it had to be a perfect Man. The only one was the God-man, Jesus Christ, and He willingly gave His life so we could live.

“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15,16).

We draw near not to a throne of law, which is what thrones typically are. They are places of judgment, where verdicts are sent forth. Kings are often selfish. Their leadership can bring fear to those who oppose them. God has a throne of grace because of Jesus. At this throne we receive mercy to overcome our misery and grace to overcome our guilt. Had the God-man compromised in just one area of His life, salvation would have become impossible. The perfect justice of God would not have been satisfied. Scripture makes a clear point of the sinlessness of Christ.

“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren….Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage… Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:10-18). All praise to the Son of God, the man Jesus!

6 THINGS DADS SHOULD DO

 

INSTRUCT DELIBERATELY.

My dad was a wise and hard-working man. He told his six children, “Leave your place cleaner than you found it.” Somehow his example stuck. Took forty high schoolers camping at Sequoia. Told them to keep the bathrooms clean. Said we would be checking. The Ranger came by because they had never seen the bathrooms that clean. They expected the opposite from rowdy teenagers. Thanks, Dad, for a good example.

One dad told his wife, “I’ll bring home the money and you can set the tone in the home.” Wrong. The reason some guys think the Christian life is for girls is because Dad provided well but led poorly and was distant. Not mine.

 

LEAD GENTLY.

My dad didn’t raise his voice with us. Never. Felt badly the few times I used volume to leverage control, and I am not even Italian. Volume is manipulative. The Good Shepherd leads with gentleness and lowliness. Dads, take your cue from Jesus, not a coach.  There’s a reason that in the only two places the New Testament focuses on parental responsibilities, it speaks to husbands, and the first words are negative: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).

 

DON’T CONTROL.

Does it bless you that the most powerful Person in the universe is the least controlling? When the prodigal wanted to leave home, the father didn’t take away his keys. He even gave him the inheritance. He knew that the son had already left in his heart. He used love to influence, not force to control–and it worked. “Love never fails!” I never doubted my dad’s gentle love.

 

KEEP THEIR VOWS.

I never saw my parents fight. They had disagreements, and I know they had their tough times, but we saw Dad loving Mom and Mom respecting Dad. I often sat next to her in church. When my dad said something in his sermon that was on the edge, she would squeeze my hand and say, “Oh, Andy!” very softly. When we all got home, she had nothing but affirmation for the man who obeyed his vow to love her until death parted them.

 

SPEND TIME WITH KIDS.

I got the feeling that my dad enjoyed being with me. Once he made me a t-bone steak before a basketball game, then sat down and watched me eat it while we talked basketball. That memory is imprinted on my mind for life. Can’t say I remember more than a couple of the nine hundred sermons I heard him preach.

 

FORGIVE FREELY.

When I spent a summer during college days at the headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ, I learned a lot about running a church, and I told my dad a few of them. He only had thirty years of experience. Years later, after I became a pastor and saw how difficult it was, I went back to my father and acknowledged that I was an idiot. The way he forgave me said that he had never thought about it–and never would. It helped me see how God forgives–and loves! Thanks, Dad!